Myth Buster: Can Bats Take off from the Ground?

Today we are going to be investigating the claim that bats CANNOT take off from the ground.
After researching a few sources, the final conjecture that I have reached is that most bats can’t, but there are a few who actually can.

Our first source is the San Diego Zoo’s website. This zoo is one of the most progressive in the world, with over 4000 animals of more than 800 species. Thus, we consider them to be a viable source when it comes to bats. On their website we read, “Most bats take off by dropping from a hanging position, and many can’t take off from the ground.” What bats, we now wonder, can take off from the ground, and what in their biology enables them to be able to take of?

According to biologist and researcher Carl Zimmer (, “Birds only need two limbs for flying, leaving their remaining two relatively free to land and walk around on the ground. Bats, on the other hand, make their hind legs part of their wings, and so natural selection has to strike a compromise between several different functions. And while birds can stop flying by using their feet to land on the ground, most bats have to use their feet to hang upside down.”

Carl continues, “With their delicate legs yoked together by their wings, you might expect that bats don’t do very well on the ground. And indeed, most species won’t win any track and field medals.” As part of his research, Zimmer spent some time with two Brown University biologists, Dan Riskin and Sharon Swartz, watching slow-motion movies of bats. “When Riskin puts a typical bat on a treadmill, they stumble around. If the treadmill goes too fast they start to lose all control. It’s likely, then, that the ability to walk efficiently and to run was lost in the early evolution of bats. But millions of years later, that ability evolved once more in at least two species.”

“One place where bats have taken to the ground again is New Zealand. The remarkable isolation of New Zealand left it without big predators and without any mice or other ground-dwelling mammals. One species, the New Zealand short-tailed bat, has adapted to this niche. While it can still fly, it now moves around comfortably on the ground in search of bugs, nectar, fruit, and pollen.”

The second type of bat which has taken to the ground is the vampire bat: “A vampire bat will walk on the ground to sneak up on its victim. If its victim tries to get away, it can scramble in pursuit. Riskin found that if he put vampire bats on treadmills, they can walk like New Zealand short-tailed bats. But when he speeds up the treadmill, they suddenly switch to a bizarre form of running. Instead of pushing off with their hind legs, like a squirrel, they use their long, heavily muscled arms. It’s a mammal version of front-wheel drive versus rear-wheel drive.”

To read more and see videos of these rats with wings, see the full article:

And look out for this huge bat if you’re ever in Tanzania!

The bat that my dad picked up and threw so that it could fly was probably a Little Brown Myotis – Myotis lucifugus. Here is a picture that I took of it on the ground:

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